A big part of our trip has been trying out all the great food and drink in South America. Throughout the region you can buy excellent fruit (orange, peach, mango, apricot, etc.) juice in boxes for about a dollar, many are thick and rich, in addition to the ever present Coca-cola and associated products. Here is a summary of our gastronomical experiences on this continent.
Peru of offers some really great food (cuisine, if you will) that doesn’t get as much credit as it deserves. Peru is noted for it’s mix of indigenous, Asian, African (creole), Italian, and other flavors and styles of cooking. The capital, Lima, is well known for it’s cutting edge fusion cuisine (although this high end food was beyond the reach of our budget). The soups are really flavorful, as well as many of the other foods. Although it’s not as spicy as some food (Mexican, Indian, Thai, etc.), it is often well seasoned with turmeric, cilantro, lime, peanuts and lots of salt. Corn, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, olives, eggs, quinoa, avocado, sweet potatoes and rice are frequently used ingredients. When eating out, a good option is the set menú of the day. This is usually a three course meal (soup, a main dish, desert, and a drink) that is cheap, filling and changes from day to day. The soups are usually simple but have great flavor (tomato, corn, quinoa and creole soups are common and were some of our favorites) and deserts are often modest but sweet, often a dab of ice cream with fruit and syrup. Most menús come with tea.
Common dishes include: papas a la huancaina (boiled potatoes covered in a cheese sauce), ceviche, rocoto rellano (red pepper stuffed with seasoned meat specific to Arequipa), papa rellana (mashed potatoes stuffed with meat, onions and olives and then deep fried), Chinese food (chifa), alpaca, rotisserie chicken with fries, and the ever present lomo saltado (marinated beef cooked with onions, tomatoes, fries and rice). Some foods unique to Peru are alpaca, guinea pig, and antichucos (marinated and grilled beef heart). Peru also has its own typical cheese, which is kind of like Parmesan, (salty, firm and mild).
Drinks – The best drink in Peru (after the pisco sour) is chicha morada, a sweet, rich drink made from purple corn and pineapples with subtle flavors of cinnamon, cloves and lemon. It is great served cold on a hot day. Inka cola is the national soda, that is colored stark yellow and tastes a little like bubble gum. Most of the beer in Peru isn’t notable, except for Cuzqueña (from Cuzco), particularly the dark malta, which is a dark, sweet beer with little or no hoppy bitterness. They also offer coca tea, which doesn’t get you high but is supposed to help adjust to the altitude.
(special thanks to Alfredo for the great introduction to Peruvian food before the trip)
The food in Chile doesn’t have the same amount of flavor as in Peru, but they really have some great ingredients, and we enjoyed cooking for ourselves here. A long country with lots of coast line, they of course had an amazing amount of seafood. The pan amasado was great in the south of the country. The cazualas (soups, usually beef) we had weren’t too special, except for the seafood soups. Empenadas are common, as are hotdogs (covered, and we mean covered, in mayonnaise!) and little flat steak sandwiches. Many restaurants offer parrillas, in imitation of the Argentinian grilled meats.
Drinks – Chile has some great, and very inexpensive wines. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere, Syrah, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, etc., this place has it all for very good prices. You can get a decent wine for $2-3 in the grocery store, and even better for $6-10. A bottle of decent wine at a restaurant can cost $6-10 (usually what you can get at the store for $3-4).
Chile, in addition to Peru, also claims to be the originator of the pisco sour, but we’re just here to visit and we don’t want to cause any kind of international incident, so we’ll just leave this topic alone. The best beer in Chile comes from the south (where there are many German immigrants). Kunstmann is a great German style beer that is often on tap and comes in Bock (very dark, with a heavily roasted, almost coffee like flavor), Torobayo (a rich, smooth amber), Lager (good flavor and a hoppy finish) and Meil (made with honey). You can get pitchers for $7 and a big pint for $2.50. Austral is another common German beer, but it’s rarely on tap and only comes in expensive bottles.
They also have nuclear yellow and orange colored sodas here (Pap and Bilz) that taste like something sweet and synthetic, close to bubble gum. Why bother when you can get good fruit juice or wine here? The grocery stores have two prominent things in amazing abundance: mate (of course) and mayonnaise. The mayo comes in large un-refrigerated packets and people gobble it up on everything (bread, fries, hotdogs, you name it).
Beef. Enough said.
Okay, the empanadas here are far superior to the ones in Chile, and they make excellent pasta (especially gnocchi). And of course the wine is excellent. Vegetables are pretty scarce here, but they make up for the lack of vegetables with more beef. They also consume copious amounts of mate and mayonnaise, and there is usually one aisle for each item alone at grocery stores.
There are distinct regions of Argentina that offer different foods. Bariloche is well known for chocolate. The region of Neuquen, where El Bolsón is located, has great berries: including raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, elderberries and Calafazate berries (like a mix between a blueberry and a huckleberry). Further north, Mendoza is a great wine producing region, and offers many other arid agricultural treats like fresh olive oil, sundried tomatoes and the like. We bought some great sundried tomatoes, eggplant spread, and olives in Maipú for great price and we made great pasta with them while camping for many nights afterwards.
Ice cream is everywhere and is very good in Argentina. Dark chocolate, white chocolate, berry, mango, melon, we tried it all.
The wines here are well known for being excellent and have lived up to their reputation. We got great bottles of wines in stores ranging in price from $2 to 10. Malbec and Torrontes are their signatures varieties, but they also do many other wines well Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, since they really have all types of climates neeeded for each type of wine. In Mendoza, we went to a fancy wine tasting place called the Vines of Mendoza before we went to do more wine tasting, and we had a nice orientation to the wines and regions around Mendoya, and we sampled some of the better wines than our budget usually allowed.
Quilmes is a major beer here, and also offers flavors like Stout, Bock, and Red. El Bolsón is in a hops growing region and has great microbrews.
SERIOUS MEAT EATING PHOTOS BELOW!!!!!!!!